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Teachers union seeks Florida DOE emails, searching for connections between Bennett, Bush foundation, charter school groups and others

Ohanian Comment: Bad education policy is rewarded but sometimes greed brings the thugs down.

In earlier article Leslie Postal noted that "Two more staff members who'd come to Florida from Indiana with Tony Bennett have resigned from their posts at the Florida Department of Education." Postal points out that "They were among the Indiana staff who emailed with Bennett back in September about school grades in that state."

by Leslie Postal

A national teachers union that last week made a large request for emails from the Indiana Department of Education said today it will do the same in Florida. The American Federation of Teachers is looking for connections among Tony Bennett, Jeb Bush's educational foundation, ALEC and a charter school management group that employs Bennett's wife, it said.

The email requests stem from the controversy in Indiana over the A-to-F grade given to a charter school in that state. Bennett, then the schools chief in that state, had Indiana's grading formula changed when a preliminary run of grades showed an Indianapolis charter school would not get an A in 2012.

He resigned from his job as Florida's education commissioner after the Indiana grade-changing story broke.

Bennett insisted he did nothing wrong, saying the education department changed the grading formula when it realized it unfairly penalized the charter school and a dozen others that did not have four high school grades enrolled.

But others accused him of manipulating the system to benefit a charter school he favored and whose founder was a political donor.

Indiana's current superintendent of instruction -- who defeated Bennett in that state's November election -- issued a statement last week saying that "upon our preliminary examination, the Department has verified that there was manipulation of calculation categories and the Department has also determined that there are broader issues that need to be examined."

The AFT's president, Randi Weingarten, is to be in Miami this afternoon and will speak about the email request then.

The union wants a wide-range of emails from players not specifically linked to the Bennett controversy in Indiana.

But here are the connections: Bush's education foundations are influential, and Bennett was part of "chiefs for change," a group put together by Bush's group. ALEC is a private group of conservative state lawmakers that pushes "model" legislation on a host of topics. Bush, a former Florida governor, was a featured speaker at an ALEC conference last week in Chicago.

"Public education is a public good, and taxpayers, parents, teachers and others who rely on our public schools are entitled to full transparency around the decisions and actions made regarding our schools—whether in Indiana or here in Florida," Weingarten said in a statement.

"Tony Bennett betrayed that promise when he put backroom deals and favors for political donors ahead of the children of Indiana. Creating full transparency will ensure continued confidence and trust in our public schools," she said.

Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said he had no comment on the records request

Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog





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